Posts tagged Buffalo Grass

Buffalo Grass at Monrovia project

“Which turf substitute – beside gravel or other paving – provides a green ground cover that people can sit upon, tolerates moderate foot traffic, and requires less water?”

As a practicing landscape architect, this is the inquiry I’m most frequently asked by friends, clients, and other design colleagues. I tell them one alternative is a California native turf grass species known as Buffalo Grass (Bouteloua dactyloides), a species of native grass bred by UC researchers at Davis and Riverside in 2003, the very same that can be seen planted in a fire lane at the AHBE project Monrovia Gold Line Station [shown above].

According to one vendor’s website, one of the varieties of this plant developed for the precipitation scarce and hot temperatures of Southern California and Arizona, UC Verde, can use up to 75% less water than a traditional fescue lawn, grows to a maximum height of 6”, and can be mowed approximately every month for a more manicured look (or not at all for more of a meadow appearance).

UC Verde Buffalograss In Santa Monica, CA. Creative Commons photo by Tom Engelman.

UC Verde Buffalograss in Santa Monica, CA. Creative Commons photo by Tom Engelman.

Buffalo Grass is a perennial grass that spreads by stolons, or running roots. One notable physical trait characterizing UC Verde grass is that it goes dormant in the winter months with less sunlight and cooler temperatures. This process slows both vertical and horizontal growth, and the grass changes from green to tan or straw during this dormant phase. Specific recommendations for addressing this color change on the website state:

The duration of this color change may be reduced by combining a late fall fertilization with mowing UC Verde to about 1 inch height when you begin to see the change in color. This will allow the sun to keep the soil warmer reducing these changes. In the late winter, repeat the fertilization to encourage the grass to begin growing again. If you want to have your lawn totally green during the winter months, an organic based turf colorant can be applied.

But is the constant green color so important from an aesthetic perspective? Brown turf grass can certainly indicate a dead or dying traditional lawn, but what if it’s a natural part of the life cycle of the Buffalo Grass, a plant that will return to its green and growing cycle once again when more hours of light become available? Straw, cream, golden, decomposed granite, and blue-grays of agaves and cactus are all colors too. I believe as concerned occupants of this region acclimating to the new norm – drought – we need to embrace these colors as part of our long-term landscape palette.

Hyundai HeadquartersPeople often ask whether there is a grass that can replace their traditional water-loving lawns. The challenge is most residents want to continue to see the color green. However, one should keep in mind there isn’t a magic plant that will duplicate the rich green, all-American fescue lawn that many of us have grown accustomed to in front yards and reduce water use significantly. In order to get a low water grass we must begin to rethink the garden and imagine our home’s landscape with a more naturalistic meadow appearance. Here is a trio of California Native grass options that require less water:

The Buffalo Grass Blog documented 8 weeks of growing UC Verde Buffalo Grass in their yard.

The Buffalo Grass Blog documented 8 weeks of growing UC Verde Buffalo Grass in their yard.

UC Verde Buffalo Grass (Buffalo Grass)
I recently used this grass at the Hyundai Headquarters in Fountain Valley, California as a lawn substitute. I think it’s a great options for the front yard. This grass uses about 75% less water than the traditional grass and was developed by researchers at UC Davis and UC Riverside specifically for the California climate. Buffalo Grass is typically sold small plugs and not by seed. Plant the plugs at 8″ to 10″ on center and they will spread by stolons. You should have a full coverage within a 4-6 months if you plant the plugs in the spring.

Dog owners will be pleased to know this variety of grass not only holds up to foot traffic, but is also non-toxic for grass chewing hounds, while also being beneficial for improving allergies because this grass does not produce seeds. UC Verde Buffalo Grass is even available online for direct delivery to make establishing a new lawn easier.

Landscape designer Julie Orr used Agrostis Palens to  beautiful effect, noting Native Bentgrass does well in full sun and creates a more flowing, meadow-like lawn.

Landscape designer Julie Orr used Agrostis Palens to beautiful effect, noting Native Bentgrass does well in full sun and does a good job of looking like a traditional lawn.

Agrostis Palens (Native Bentgrass)
One of my favorite meadow grasses. Although this grass can be occasionally mowed, be aware this grass wants to be a meadow. If you want a more immediate cover use this species. It can be seeded any time (although prefers the fall season), germinating within a few weeks. It normally goes dormant during the summer, but can be kept somewhat green with occasional water during the hot months.

Carex Praegracilis (California Field Sedge)
This is a great option if you live near the coast. This grass uses about 25% less water, but once established it will appear similar to your old lawn. I’ve seen a few installations in the Santa Barbara area and California Field Sedge will tolerate some foot traffic as well as occasional mowing. Although it can be seeded, it is best to plant this grass with containers. This grass will spread by rhizomes.